OTTAWA - The RCMP is on the ground in Algeria to help pin down whether Canadians were part of the group of terrorists linked to al-Qaida who mounted a deadly siege at an isolated Algerian energy plant, government sources say.
The contribution of the Mounties is part of an ongoing effort — so far unsuccessful — to either confirm or rebut claims that Canadians were among the band of militants who mounted last week's attack on the remote natural gas complex.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal made that claim on Algerian television earlier this week — a claim that so far, Canadian diplomats in Algeria and Foreign Affairs Department officials in Ottawa have been unable to corroborate.
Foreign Affairs also summoned Algeria's ambassador to Canada in hopes of getting an explanation.
Government sources refused to disclose specifically how the RCMP is trying to verify the Algerian claim — specifically whether they will have access to documents or be privy to post-mortem information on any of the slain hostage takers.
"They are on the ground," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the Mounties' mission. "I don't know how many are there. I don't know how long they are there for."
Rick Roth, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, released a statement Thursday that said Canadian officials on the ground in Algeria were "working with Algerian officials to get the necessary information."
Roth would not answer follow-up questions, saying it would be inappropriate to comment further on an "operational matter."
Authorities say 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed when Algerian forces stormed the complex.